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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Henry Fletcher Hance   10 May 1863

British Vice Consulate, | Whampoa,

10. May, 1863.

Dear Sir,

Knowing that you are engaged in researches on the influence of domestication on the external form and characteristics of animals, I take the liberty of inclosing a stuffed specimen of an albino sparrow from Japan, which I begged the other day from an acquaintance, in whose possession it had died.1 I cannot say whether, the skeleton being absent, it is of the slightest use or interest to you, but I send it on the chance that it may prove so. I have seen several very curiously marked & colored Japanese sparrows, but they are very rare here, in the south of China, & I cannot procure any for transmission to you, nor do I think they would get home alive, unless very great care were taken of them, for they seem delicate in constitution, from what I can learn. Mr. Swinhoe2 told me that the So. China sparrow is Passer montanus. I am no zoologist myself, & do not pretend to know whether the specimen sent & the others I have referred to are sports of that species or not, but the Japanese are such adepts at raising vegetable monsters that they are not unlikely to have outrun us in propagating & perpetuating animal races too.

It is not likely that you have heard my name, though I have for many years past worked steadily at the Flora of China; but a quiet student, who writes little, & is located in so distant & isolated a place can of course expect no other lot.3

I take advantage of this opportunity to say that an old friend of mine, Edw. Bradford, a Linnaean, formerly Princ: Med: Officer in the Hongkong Garrison, & now head of the medical staff at Sandhurst, who was stationed for some time at Dominica & Trinidad,4 where he worked hard at Orchids, con amore, & with great skill too, & from whom I was so fortunate as to receive a number of specimens, wrote to me very lately, ‘a propos of your suggestion (: Fertil. of Orch. p. 236:) that Catasetum tridentatum was ♂,5 to say that he felt sure he had collected perfect fruit from it in Trinidad! This was about 17 years ago, but his memory was not treacherous, for I found on referring to my herbarium (which I did at his request) a fine full capsule, of which I have sent him a sketch—6 Thus, your supposition is unfounded.7 I have mentioned this, because I feel sure it is a fact which will greatly interest you; but, while doing so, I desire to explain in the most explicit manner that the discovery & all the credit pertaining thereto are Mr. Bradford’s, not mine.

I am, | Dear Sir, | Faithfully Yours, | H. F. Hance.

My address is:

Dr. H. F. Hance,

H. B. M. Vice Consul,

Whampoa, | China.

or/to the care of

Mr. Franz Thimm,8

3 Brook Street,

Grosvenor Square.

CD annotations

1.1 Knowing … lot. 2.3] crossed pencil
3.8 This was … sketch— 3.10] double scored red crayon
Top of letter: ‘Catasetum seedling’ circled pencil


Hance may have learned of CD’s research from Robert Swinhoe (see n. 2, below).
Robert Swinhoe was an amateur naturalist, who had served with the British Foreign Office in the Far East since 1854, latterly as vice-consul in Formosa, now Taiwan. Swinhoe had corresponded with CD on several occasions (see Correspondence vol. 10, and this volume, letter from Robert Swinhoe, 14 April 1863).
Hance was the author of several articles on the plants of China (Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers) and, in 1871, produced ‘Floræ Hongkongensis supplementum’ (Hance 1871), a supplement to George Bentham’s flora of Hong Kong (Bentham 1861).
Hance refers to the army surgeon Edward Bradford, who collected plants in Trinidad in 1845–6 (R. Desmond 1994). Bradford was the surgeon and deputy inspector-general of hospitals at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst; he was elected to a fellowship of the Linnean Society in 1859 (List of the Linnean Society of London).
In Orchids, pp. 236–48, CD argued that Catasetum tridentatum was the male, Monachanthus viridis the female, and Myanthus barbatus the hermaphrodite form of a single species.
The sketch by Hance was enclosed with the letter from Edward Bradford, 31 July 1863.
See n. 5, above. In Orchids 2d ed., p. 197 n., CD commented: Dr. Hance writes to me that he has in his collection a plant of Catasetum tridentatum from the West Indies bearing a fine capsule; but it does not appear to have been ascertained that this particular flower was that of Catasetum, and there is no great improbability in a single flower of Monachanthus being produced by a plant of Catasetum, as well as a whole scape, which we know has often occurred.
Franz Thimm was a London bookseller specialising in foreign literature (Post Office London directory 1863).


Sends sketch of Catasetum tridentatum fruit at request of Edward Bradford.

CD incorrectly asserted that Catasetum is male [Orchids, pp. 236–8].

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Fletcher Hance
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Vice Consulate, Whampoa
Source of text
DAR 166: 95
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4152,” accessed on 21 April 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11